The structure of social science revolutions: The unrealized potential of feminist scholarship in the field of mass communications

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Elizabeth Toth


Feminist, Revolutions, Scholarship, Social science, Mass communications

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Communication | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Mass Communication | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Women's Studies


Over the past thirty years, the development of feminist theoretical perspectives in the mass communications discipline in the United States has been sporadic and constrained. Although feminist studies appeared to be flourishing in the mid and late 1980s, this feminist potential to transform the study of mass communications has yet to be realized.

The purpose of this study was to develop a greater understanding of the current state of feminist scholarship in the field of mass communications. Through a series of in-depth, qualitative interviews with a purposive sample of 41 mass communication researchers affiliated with U.S. universities, barriers contributing to this paralysis for feminist research within "mainstream" scholarly traditions in the discipline were identified, as well as possible solutions for transcending these barriers.

The study's participants indicated a variety of barriers for feminist scholarship within social institutions, within the field of mass communications, and within feminist scholarship itself. These barriers included a lack of interest and exposure to feminist scholarship, specific constraints for feminist and/or female scholars, perceived shortcomings or inadequacies of feminist scholarship, fragmentation of the field, control exercised by an ossified university bureaucracy, reliance on traditional social science approaches in the field, and funding and publishing restrictions.

Respondents also listed numerous strategies to overcome these barriers, such as continued growth of women's and ethnic interest groups in the field; increased publishing outlets; additional funding sources; changes in academic hiring, promotion, and publication criteria; shifts in cultural norms in society; increased presence of women and/or people of color in academia; revisions to feminist approaches; greater support of praxis in the academy; and increased feminist coalitions across disciplines and outside of the university.

The study concludes with an extensive list of recommendations for a feminist research and action agenda in the field of mass communications.


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